Water Works Wonders for Overcoming Disabilities
By Judith Kahn
Laurel Condro has spent the past 15 years working in a unique environment - using her skills as a physical therapist in a swimming pool to help children and adults who are physically challenged.
Condro hails from Elgin, Illinois and graduated from Saint Louis University in Missouri with a degree in physical therapy. Because of aquatic therapy, Laurel says people who are physically challenged can learn the joy of swimming while gaining strength and increased dexterity.
Condro has been swimming since she was six months old and has been a competitive pool swimmer since she was 12 years of age. Currently, she competes in various open water competitions, such as bay, ocean, and lake swims and triathlons.
Her success as a therapist lies with her passion for the water and her excitement in seeing physically-challenged children learn to overcome their disabilities while enjoying the water. Condro says success is when she sees a smile on one of her client's faces because they have gained the insight of a new movement or sensation.
Condro's face beams as she reveals some of the accomplishments her clients have been able to achieve through Aquatic Therapy, which she facilitates at the swimming pool at the Janet Pomeroy Center located near the SF Zoo. She has seen kids walk in water who can not walk on land, and she has seen kids who could barely move enough to drive a power wheelchair float and swim independently in the pool. This is what it is all about, says Laurel.
She tries to get physically-challenged youth to "achieve functional goals beyond what they would work for on land."
According to Condro, patience and the willingness to be flexible are two of the most important qualities for a therapist. She believes children must be motivated and enjoy the water in order to gain the greatest benefits from the therapy.
Condro decided to become a physical therapist after reading the book "The Other Side of the Mountain," by Evans G. Valens. It is about an Olympic hopeful skier, Jill Kinmont, who sustained a severe spinal cord injury while training for the 1956 Olympics. Kinmont's determination to recover and the progress she made through physical therapy inspired Condro.
The disabilities of her clients range from cerebral palsy, autism, and muscular dystrophy to Down's Syndrome.
Parents of the children who have attended the aquatic physical therapy say they have seen improvement in their children's disposition, muscular tone, breathing and gait. The beauty of aquatic therapy, Condro explained, is the lack of gravity working against the body, which allows her clients to relax and have more freedom of movement.
For people whose muscles are contracted due to a physical disability, like cerebral palsy, this type of therapy has a huge advantage.
Condro came aboard the aquatics program in September 2004, when the director of the aquatics program in San Rafael spotted her working with an adult client at the Osher Marin Jewish Community's therapeutic pool in San Rafael. The director decided at once that Laurel would be the perfect instructor to head a pediatric aquatics program in San Francisco.
The program was established in May 2006.
Condro would like to increase the student body enough to have a second staff person. She works with children as young as four months old and adults up to 20 years of age. One goal she has for all of her clients is that they become independent swimmers and enjoy the water as much as possible.
Aquatic therapy sessions are one on one, cost $60, and may be covered by insurance. Scholarships are also available. Sessions are held at the Janet Pomeroy Center at 207 Skyline Blvd. For more information, call (415) 507-9800 or go to the Web site at www.aquatictherapy.org.